Matthew M. Reed, a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program, has published an excellent summary of the limited threat posed by Iran’s “oil weapon,” armies, proxies and alleged nuclear weapons program.
Reed, in his blog post on Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note, concludes that: the Iranian government would do more damage to their own source of revenue than to western importers if they limited output to punish Western economies; the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have little ability to project power beyond their border; Tehran possesses no “on-off” switch for Hezbollah (despite what Lee Smith might argue); Tehran could harass commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf but this would impact Iranian oil revenues; and the Islamic Republic will not develop a sizable nuclear arsenal anytime soon and will be susceptible to anti-missile systems.
Every tool at Iran’s disposal comes with serious limitations: the “oil weapon” is self-defeating; Iran’s conventional military is too modest; any asymmetric attacks would be small-scale or prompt massive retaliation; and nuclear intimidation is evaporating with the deployment of new anti-missile systems. Iran’s leaders might still make rhetorical threats, but their tools are too weak if they wish to convert verbal attacks into physical ones.
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